Web browsers I have known, 1996-2012

Jason Kottke recently recapped all of the browsers he used as his default for the past 18 years. It sounded like fun, so I’m going to shamelessly steal the idea and list out my default browsers for the past 16 years (prior to 1996, I was stuck in the dark ages of dialup AOL – but once I went away to college and discovered the joys of T1/T3 connections, my browsing career started in earnest, so that’s when I’m starting this list).

  • 1996Netscape Navigator 3 – This was pretty much the uncontested king of browsers at the time, but it’s reign would be short. I had a copy of IE3 (I think?) on my computer too, but I almost never used it…
  • 1997-1998Netscape Communicator 4 – Basically Netscape Navigator 4, but the Communicator was a whole suite of applications which appealed to me at the time. I used it for email and even to start playing with some HTML editing (though I would eventually abandon everything but the browser from this suite). IE4 did come out sometime in this timeframe and I used it occasionally, but I think I stuck with NN4 way longer than I probably should have.
  • 1999-2000Internet Explorer 5 – With the release of IE5 and the increasing issues surrounding NN4, I finally jumped ship to Microsoft. I was never particularly comfortable with IE though, and so I was constantly looking for alternatives and trying new things. I believe early builds of Mozilla were available, and I kept downloading the updates in the hopes that it would allow me to dispense with IE, but it was still early in the process for Mozilla. This was also my first exposure to Opera, which at the time wasn’t that remarkable (we’re talking version 3.5 – 4 here) except that, as usual, they were ahead of the curve on tabbed browsing (a mixed blessing, as monitor resolutions at the time weren’t great). Opera was also something you had to pay for at the time, and a lot of sites didn’t work in Opera. This would all change at the end of 2000, though, with the release of Opera 5.
  • 2001Opera 5 – This browser changed everything for me. It was the first “free” Opera browser available, although the free version was ad-supported (quite annoying, but it was easy enough to get rid of the ads). The thing that was revolutionary about this browser, though, was mouse gestures. It was such a useful feature, and Opera’s implementation was (and quite frankly, still is) the best, smoothest implementation of the functionality I’ve seen. At this point, I was working at a website, so for work, I was still using IE5 and IE6 as my primary browser (because at the time, they represented something like 85-90% of the traffic to our site). I was also still experimenting with the various Mozilla-based browsers at the time as well, but Opera was my default for personal browsing. Of course, no one codes for Opera, so there were plenty of sites that I’d have to fire up IE for (this has always been an issue with Opera)
  • 2002-2006Opera 6/7/8/9 – I pretty much kept rolling with Opera during this timeframe. Again, for my professional use, IE6/IE7 was still a must, but in 2004, Firefox 1.0 launched, so that added another variable to the mix. I wasn’t completely won over by the initial Firefox offerings, but it was the first new browser in a long time that I thought had a bright future. It also provided a credible alternative for when Opera crapped out on a weirdly coded page. However, as web standards started to actually be implemented, Opera’s issues became fewer as time went on…
  • 2007Firefox 2/Opera 9 – It was around this time that Firefox started to really assert itself in my personal and professional usage. I still used Opera a lot for personal usage, but for professional purposes, Firefox was a simple must. At the time, I was embroiled in a year-long site redesign project for my company, and I was doing a ton of HTML/CSS/JavaScript development… Firefox was an indispensable tool at the time, mostly due to extensions like Firebug and the Web-Developer Toolbar. I suppose I should note that Safari first came to my attention at this point, mostly for troubleshooting purposes. I freakin’ hate that browser.
  • 2008-2011Firefox/Opera – After 2007, there was a slow, inexorable drive towards Firefox. Opera kept things interesting with a feature they call Speed Dial (and quite frankly, I like that feature much better than what Chrome and recent versions of Firefox have implemented), but the robust and mature list of extensions for Firefox were really difficult to compete with, especially when I was trying to get stuff done. Chrome also started to gain popularity in this timeframe, but while I loved how well it loaded Ajax and other JavaScript-heavy features, I could never really get comfortable with the interface. Firefox still afforded more control, and Opera’s experience was generally better.
  • 2012/PresentFirefox – Well, I think it’s pretty telling that I’m composing this post on Firefox. That being said, I still use Opera for simple browsing purposes semi-frequently. Indeed, I usually have both browsers open at all times on my personal computer. At work, I’m primarily using Firefox, but I’m still forced to use IE8, as our customers tend to still prefer IE (though the percentage is much less these days). I still avoid Safari like the plague (though I do sometimes need to troubleshoot and I suppose I do use Mobile Safari on my phone). I think I do need to give Chrome a closer look, as it’s definitely more attractive these days…

Well, there you have it. I do wonder if I’ll ever get over my stubborn love for Opera, a browser that almost no one but me uses. They really do manage to keep up with the times, and have even somewhat recently allowed Firefox and Chrome style extensions, though I think it’s a little too late for them. FF and Chrome just have a more robust community surrounding their development than Opera. I feel like it’s a browser fated to die at some point, but I’ll probably continue to use it until it does… So what browser do you use?

5 thoughts on “Web browsers I have known, 1996-2012”

  1. I was going to try to answer the question in a comprehensive fashion, but upon reviewing all of the web browsers I’ve used since 1993 or 1994 (I can’t remember which), I figured I better stick to the notables. When I first signed up with AOL I’m not sure if they had the AOL Browser yet. Either way, I quickly tried several others but it was clear that Netscape 2 was the way to go. I stayed with Netscape until Internet Explorer 4, although I played around with Arachne. I swapped back and forth between IE5 and Navigator 5, until I switched briefly to Mozilla and then to Opera 5.

    I absolutely loved Opera 5, but I had some severe problems with it. Around the time of the JRE lawsuit settlements, I started having problems getting any kind of scripting or embedded programming to work consistently. These problems continued with Opera 6 and I finally switched to Firefox. I think somewhere around v.89; I remember the actual “1.0” release, that lasted almost a day. But that was Firefox. Still is, mostly.

    I stayed with Firefox until last year, when I started having more and more problems with performance and memory leaks (old problems that had been mostly controlled for the past couple of years). I briefly tried Opera again, but found that I was still having problems with several webpages. (Is it just me?) I finally gave in and tried Chrome. A couple of months ago I re-installed Firefox from scratch…it felt like I was browsing in a stupor compared to Chrome. So, Chrome.

    I only ever used Internet Explorer again for a couple of years when I used Macs. (Blue & White G3 and Graphite & White G4 generation, early OS X. Never used Safari after the first time.)

  2. I switched from Firefox to Chrome just a couple of weeks ago. I had been using Firefox since probably 2003, but I decided to try Chrome again because my sister was using it. I installed Chrome when it first came out and hated it but realized I shouldn’t judge it by that first go-around.

    I kind of hate to admit it because I’ve been a big Mozilla fan, but I much prefer Chrome now.

  3. My timeline is pretty much the same as yours through the last few years. I used Netscape Navigator right up until the frustrating Juno Free/NetZero experience, then unhappily used IE until Firefox took off. No Opera for me…I’ve never actually used it. I switched to Chrome about a year ago, something was running wonky in Firefox, used Chrome for a day or two, and when I went back to Firefox, it felt slow and cluttered. And here we are!

  4. The only site I regularly use that doesn’t work with Opera is… Movable Type (my blogging software). For whatever reason, when I check the category boxes, it doesn’t actually register. That doesn’t seem like it would be all that complicated, but here I am. Part of the reason I’ve mostly switched to FF…

    Also, just so everyone knows, I’m completely aware of how weird it is that I use Opera at all, let alone for most of the naughts…

    And I should probably give Chrome another chance sometime soon.

  5. Chrome initially annoyed the hell out of me, not so much because it was actually that annoying but because there were certain features of other browsers that I had become used to that I couldn’t use in Chrome. I can’t do the automatic .com/.net/.org append in Chrome with ctrl/shift/ctrl+shift enter because it ends up picking the first suggested Google search or URL from history instead. Ctrl+shift+v in Firefox’s AdBlock brings up a list of all elements loaded on a page but the same functionality is kinda hard to reach in Chrome’s AdBlock. Some of the JS errors generated by Chrome (or V8, rather) aren’t as helpful as the ones generated by Firefox. Other stuff like that as well. All minor, but bugged me enough, especially for work-related tasks, that I stuck with Firefox for a while.

    Still, Chrome started up faster and V8 is a fantastic JS renderer. Like Patrick said, Firefox seemed slow after going back from Chrome. Then Firefox switched to a rapid release cycle, which I felt really made the version iterations feel pointless. Yeah, there were changes, but they were minor even though the major version number was changing. Chrome did the same thing but Chrome always had that, so it didn’t feel disappointing. Ultimately, performance brought me back to Chrome again and I’ve stuck with it since, although I do occasionally fire up Firefox for specific tasks. It still bugs me once in a while but overall I like it a lot more. And it seems like since most of the Internet is developing with webkit in mind, there’s less instances of “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING WEBKIT?” than I initially encountered (and why I could never use Safari for long).

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